Investigations into the lantern are well underway. (Catch up with what has happened so far by reading Part 1 & 2.)
Specialist contractors Brown & Ralph have begun to look at the side windows of the lantern. After removing the glazing putty from one of the panes of glass, more information about the original intent has been revealed.
Each pane has a central section of etching, with a clear border around the edges. Over the years, as repairs have been done and panes replaced, the putty and paint lines have crept further inwards, making the clear border not visible.
The glass will be removed and cleaned. And, as the glass is reset, the putty line will be restored so that the clear border will be visible again. Looking at the windows as a whole, it is possible to tell which panes have been replaced. The ones with a rose tint are original. As part of this project, we intend to replace the newer non-tinted glass with rose-tinted etched glass in order to return to the original aesthetic.
Keep an eye on the blog – we will keep you updated as the project progresses.
In 2015 the Fitzwilliam received an exceptional bequest of around 250 works on paper, paintings and applied arts items, the collection of Sir Ivor and Lady Batchelor. Since then, paper conservators and technicians at the Fitzwilliam have undertaken a project to conserve the drawings, watercolours and prints from the gift – documenting, treating and preparing them for archival storage and future display
Professor Sir Ivor Batchelor (1916-2015) was an eminent psychiatrist, academic and advisor to the National Health Service. He developed a love of art as a boy and began a lifetime of amateur collecting, later sharing his passion with his wife Honor.1 They regularly made gifts to the Fitzwilliam throughout the 1990’s, notably enhancing the museum’s collection of drawings by James Ward. The 2015 bequest features predominantly British C19th and C20th drawings, prints and watercolours. Favoured artists include David Cox, Frank Brangwyn, Edwin Henry Landseer, David Wilkie, Muirhead Bone, William Orpen and Walter Sickert, as well as earlier works by James Ward, Heneage Finch, Thomas Rowlandson and others. It was the distinction of great draftsmanship, coupled with affordability, which dictated most of their purchases.
The Conservation Project
The works arrived at the museum in a variety of mounting and framing styles. The condition of the works varied: many were in reasonably good condition, while others had been visibly affected by factors such as light, humidity and contact with degraded mounting and framing materials. Some works (such as the drawings by Walter Sickert) are in themselves made of poor quality papers which show the effects of age much more quickly than better quality artist’s papers.2
Technicians in the Department of Paintings, Drawings and Prints unframed the works, photographing the frames and documenting inscriptions and labels on the frame backboards. The works were placed in folders and stored in archival boxes ready for accessioning by curators.3 Cataloguing in this case is being carried out alongside the conservation project – the process of unframing, examination and treatment sometimes reveals new information about the work, as can be seen in some of the examples discussed below.
Each work is thoroughly examined, photographed and documented by conservators before any treatments are undertaken (as well as during treatment). Many items in the Batchelor collection have only required the removal of old hinges and mounts, pressing and re-mounting.4 Others however have required more interventive processes, such as backing removal, stain reduction, washing and various types of repair.
Discovering a new drawing
Removing this graphite drawing by David Cox (1783-1859) from its acidic backboard revealed another image on the reverse of the sheet – a roughly executed watercolour of a rocky landscape and some figures in pencil – probably dating from around the same time, as this page previously formed part of a sketchbook. Old adhesive was removed, the sheet was pressed and the work was mounted in a ‘double-sided mount’ so both sides of the paper can be viewed and also protected.5
Doodles and marginalia
This studio drawing by Frank Brangwyn (1867-1956) was soiled and creased with some prominent stains caused by the old acidic window mount. The window also partly covered the artist’s inscription and completely obscured other interesting drawings around the edges of the paper. It was decided to remount the work showing the entire sheet. Due to the sensitive nature of the red ink, cleaning and stain reduction could only be done ‘locally’. The newly mounted sheet looks much less cramped and gives us greater insight into the way the artist worked.
Out-foxing the Foxing
The chalk media of this drawing by Gwen John (1876-1939) was fresh and unfixed. However, the machine-made paper was poor-quality and severely discoloured overall. There were several disfiguring large brown stains, or ‘foxing spots’ scattered across the image area6 The spots were treated with water and alcohol followed by careful bleaching and a final rinsing. By using a ‘suction point’, the stain removal process was carefully controlled – the spots no longer detract from the delicately drawn image.
Emerging from the Darkness
The buff-coloured sketchbook paper used by William Orpen (1878-1931) for this sketch was of an inherently poor quality and had become acidic, dark and brittle. The sheet was undulating and distorted from old self-adhesive tape holding it in place. After removal from the mount and testing of the media, the drawing was given several washes in cool then warm de-ionized water to release the acids and impurities and re-invigorate the paper. It was then lined with a carefully chosen light-weight Japanese paper and starch paste to provide the paper with extra strength and support for the future.
Whether the conservation work is preventive or interventive, the end result is gratifying – the treated works are now stabilized and ready to be accessed for viewing, display or loan. They are now protected by their new museum-quality acid-free mounts and are stored safely in high-quality Solander boxes.7 After treatment, high-resolution digital photographs are taken before the works are returned to the climate controlled Prints and Drawings store. The Batchelor Collection conservation project for works on paper is ongoing and there will be an exhibition of selected works from the collection at the Fitzwilliam in 2018.
The installation of scaffolding took several weeks. During this time, there was a great awareness of the potential risk to the historic interiors and the collections in surrounding galleries. There were several methods of protection in place, to minimise risk from physical damage (e.g. knocks, scratches), as well as dust.
Now the scaffolding is up, survey work has begun and it provides a rare opportunity to get up close and personal with the lantern interior. Not only do we need to establish the extent of any deterioration or damage to the building and its decorative interiors, but also if we can understand the causes.
For example, staining in the dust below the side windows indicates that there has been condensation or water ingress. Closer inspection of the internal timber reveals that there is a condensation tray at the base of the lantern side windows. This design originally allows for collected condensation to flow through an outlet pipe to the outside. It may be that the pipes have been blocked by insects, causing the tray to overflow. To stop this happening in the future, we need to confirm the cause and either make modifications to the design or ensure changes to the maintenance of the current pipework.
We are still at the early stages of the project, and so survey of the plasterwork and internal decoration are ongoing.
We shall keep you updated as the project progresses – watch this space!
At the Fitzwilliam Museum, collections are kept in the best environment we can achieve, in order to prolong the lifespan of the objects and artworks; temperature is an aspect of museum management which not only is important for the comfort of visitors, but it also has a huge impact on the collections.
As the temperature remains low over the Winter months, we have to think carefully about how we heat the building.
Why might we pause before turning up the heating? Bear with this brief physics lesson, if you can:
Increased temperature can affect a range a materials, including adhesives, metals and resins. And, while it may not be visually obvious straight away, increasing temperature can increase the rate of deterioration of objects.
Temperature also has a direct impact on relative humidity (RH). RH is the amount of moisture in the air in relation to the temperature, and is given as a percentage. 100% RH means that the air cannot hold any more moisture – this is when you would see water dripping down the walls! The warmer the air, the more moisture it can hold; and if we were to turn up the heat in a room, the relative humidity would decrease causing the air to feel dry.
Organic materials, such as wood, contain water. If the RH of the air is less than the moisture content in the object, then water will start to travel from the object to the air – this is when cracks can (literally) start to appear.
So, if we turn the heating up, we have to introduce moisture into the air using a humidifier to keep the RH at the same level. This will help prevent the objects drying out.
With older objects, there is often more evidence of the changing environments it has encountered, like this panel painting. The wooden panel has curved as a reaction to the humidity levels around it.
At The Fitzwilliam Museum, we have the added complication of working in a Grade I building. The Founders Building dates back to 1848, and there have been several additions since. We have air handling units in some of the more modern galleries, which can control temperature and humidity. But in the older galleries, we can only use heat to control the environment.
We have over 70 environmental monitors in the building, and they help us keep track of the environment in all the galleries and store rooms.
So, when we are asked if the heating can be turned up, we might say ‘yes’ but we have to do a bit of data analysis first.